President Bill Clinton criticized Sen. Mitch McConnell on Sunday for his comments at a recent Koch brothers donor retreat, specifically highlighting the Senator’s comment the passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law was the “worst day” of his political life.
From the speech:
“When I look back on my life in politics, after all those decades and fights and all those campaigns, if the worst thing that ever happened to me was an attempt to limit black bag campaign contributions. What about 9/11? What about the financial meltdown? What about the farm crisis in the 1970’s and what about the middle of the country’s manufacturing base hollowing out in the 1980’s? And what about in his native Kentucky, where 70% of the coal miners losing their job before the EPA said a word with no way to put them back to work in other ways? How could you possibly say the worst thing that happened to you was not being able to black bag unlimited amounts of money. in politics when all of these things have happened to Americans?
“For almost all Kentuckians, the free and open system championed by their senior senator seems closed, corrupt and corrosive to the democratic process.”
That’s not how it should be.
By: David Donnelly, president of Every Voice and Every Voice Action
A lot has already been written about last night’s primary results in the New Hampshire Senate race. Mayday PAC, founded by Harvard Professor Larry Lessig, invested heavily to support Jim Rubens and oppose Scott Brown, and when the dust settled, Brown had a relatively convincing win. That, some cynics claim, means an electoral strategy on money-in-politics in general is ineffective.
To reach this conclusion would be:
B) a misread of what happened in NH,
C) to discount lessons that are important to learn in this or any loss, or
D) all of the above.
The right answer? D, of course.
First things first. Mayday was able to spend heavily in this race because of the vision of their founder and their amazing supporters. That shouldn’t get lost in the sauce of dissecting election results. Mayday is already succeeding at generating new interest, press attention, and volunteer excitement. Just because that hasn’t yet translated into electoral success, we shouldn’t criticize what they’ve already established.
In just 30 days in New Hampshire, they did tremendous work generating major press attention, securing the endorsement of a former U.S. Senator in Gordon Humphrey, and expanded money-in-politics activism in the Granite State.
Our experience inserting the issue of money in politics into elections dates back to the 2002 election cycle, but the most applicable experiences come from last cycle. In 2012, I co-founded and co-directed Friends of Democracy (FOD), the first super PAC to embrace the irony, as Mayday now does. FOD set out to defeat candidates who opposed legislation to reduce the influence of super PACs and wealthy donors in politics. We had extraordinary success in helping to elect seven of the eight candidates we chose to support.
Unlike Mayday, we did not set out to make money-in-politics the singular issue in these races. We set out to win highly competitive House races by making where a candidate stood on the issue and a pay-to-play narrative a determinant one for late-deciding persuadable voters who would provide the margin of victory. In six of the seven winning races we engaged in, the margin of victory was smaller than the 18,000 to 25,000 swing voters we targeted with our direct mail, phone, and web advertising campaigns.
Mayday’s model is different. For example, in New Hampshire, they sought to elect a U.S. Senate candidate in a GOP primary solely based on where he stands on addressing money in politics. And they sought to make the issue the only defining one of the race. The results from polling posted on Lessig’s tumblr shows tremendous progress in striving towards these goals, but observers, including Lessig himself, rightly raise the question whether the gap in this race was too much for too short a time. Regardless, there are significant lessons for us all to consider from the polling he’s posted. That reform voters were Rubens’ best constituency speaks to Mayday’s effectiveness in persuading voters to vote for a candidate because of his position on reform. Rubens gained substantially in the race, from nine points to 24 on Election Day.
It also shouldn’t be discounted that, looking to 2016, we know that a significant number of GOP primary voters are moveable on this issue. In a crowded primary, that could make a difference. (But that presupposes our model of how to target races, not Lessig’s.)
The macro-lesson is this: targeting really matters, both in the races selected and the voters with whom a PAC communicates. These lessons can be easily applied to races going forward for Mayday. I’m confident that Lessig and his team will do so.
For our part, Every Voice Action will be focused on re-electing five of the champions Friends of Democracy elected in 2012. All of them are in competitive elections where money-in-politics messaging, if we’re effective, can once again provide a margin of victory. We will also expand the state work we began in New York last cycle to additional districts in the Empire State and at least two other states. And we will mount a significant campaign to place boots on the ground to defeat Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. Additional races are on our radar screen, as well, including some in which we might partner with Mayday.
Mayday started out with a hard task in a GOP primary in New Hampshire with a long-shot candidate. It will be the hardest task they take on this cycle. The results last night in New Hampshire are instructive, NOT determinative, for future strategic decisions. As I can attest having done electoral work over the past eight cycles, they will succeed in some races and not in others. While we have slightly different strategies, Mayday is in the arena and is a force for building the political power necessary to win serious policy changes.
Republican senators just cynically backed an amendment that would limit the influence of big donors. But with Americans fed up with corporate influence, will the move backfire?
Check out Simpson’s oped with Sen. Tom Udall.